Megas doux

The megas doux Alexios Apokaukos (1341-1345), in the garb of his office.

The megas doux (Greek: μέγας δούξ pronounced [ˈmeɣaz ˈðuks]; English: grand duke) was one of the highest positions in the hierarchy of the later Byzantine Empire, denoting the commander-in-chief of the Byzantine navy. It is sometimes also given by the half-Latinizations megaduke or megadux (from Greek μεγαδούξ).[1] The Greek word δούξ is the Hellenized form of the Latin term dux, meaning leader or commander.

History and functions

The office was initially created by Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118), who reformed the derelict Byzantine navy and amalgamated the remnants of its various provincial squadrons into a unified force under the megas doux.[1] The Emperor's brother-in-law John Doukas is usually considered to have been the first to hold the title, being raised to it in 1092, when he was tasked with suppressing the Turkish emir Tzachas. There is however a document dated to December 1085, where a monk Niketas signs as supervisor of the estates of an unnamed megas doux.[2][3] The office of "doux of the fleet" (δούξ τοῦ στόλου), with similar responsibilities and hence perhaps a precursor of the office of megas doux, is also mentioned at the time, being given ca. 1086 to Manuel Boutoumites and in 1090 to Constantine Dalassenos.[1][4]

John Doukas, the first known megas doux, led campaigns on both land and sea and was responsible for the re-establishment of firm Byzantine control over the Aegean and the islands of Crete and Cyprus in the years 1092–93 and over western Anatolia in 1097.[5][6][7] From this time the megas doux was also given overall control of the provinces of Hellas, the Peloponnese and Crete, which chiefly provided the manpower and resources for the fleet.[8] However, since the megas doux was one of the Empire's senior officials, and mostly involved with the central government and various military campaigns, de factο governance of these provinces rested with the provinces' praitōr and various local leaders.[9] During the 12th century, the post of megas doux was dominated by the Kontostephanos family;[1] one of its members, Andronikos Kontostephanos, was one of the most important officers of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–1180), assisting him in achieving many land and naval victories.

With the virtual disappearance of the Byzantine fleet after the Fourth Crusade, the title was retained as an honorific in the Empire of Nicaea. Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1259–1282) assumed the title when he became regent for John IV Laskaris (r. 1258–1261), before being raised to senior co-emperor.[10] It was also used by the Latin Empire, where, in ca. 1207, the Latin emperor awarded the island of Lemnos and the hereditary title of megadux to the Venetian (or possibly of mixed Greek and Venetian descent) Filocalo Navigajoso ("imperiali privilegio Imperii Megaducha est effectus").[1][11] His descendants inherited the title and the rule of Lemnos until evicted by the Byzantines in 1278.

After the Byzantine recovery of Constantinople in 1261, the title reverted to its old function as commander-in-chief of the navy, and remained a high rank for the remainder of the empire, its holder ranking sixth after the emperor, between the prōtovestiarios and the prōtostratōr.[1][12] As such, it was also sometimes conferred upon foreigners in imperial service, the most notable among these being the Italian Licario, who recovered many Aegean islands for Emperor Michael VIII,[13] and Roger de Flor, head of the Catalan Company.[1] The mid-14th century Book of Offices of Pseudo-Kodinos lists the insignia of the megas doux as a golden-red skiadion hat decorated with embroideries in the klapoton style, without veil. Alternatively, a domed skaranikon hat could be worn, again in red and gold and decorated with golden wire, with a portrait of the emperor standing in front, and another of him enthroned in the rear. The megas doux also wore a rich silk tunic, the kabbadion, and could choose the fabric himself "from those that are in use". His staff of office (dikanikion) featured carved knots and knobs in gold, bordered with silver braid.[14] Pseudo-Kodinos also records that, while the other warships flew "the usual imperial flag" of the cross and the firesteels, the megas doux flew an image of the emperor on horseback.[15] His subordinate officials were the megas droungarios tou stolou, the amēralios, the prōtokomēs, the junior droungarioi, and the junior komētes.[16]

After the mid-14th century, the office was sometimes held together with the office of mesazōn, the chief of the imperial secretariat. In this capacity, Alexios Apokaukos served as one of the leading members of the imperial government during the Civil War of 1341–1347, supporting John V Palaiologos (r. 1341–1391) against John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347–1354). The last and perhaps most famous megas doux and mesazōn was Loukas Notaras, who served under Constantine XI Palaiologos (r. 1449–1453) until the Fall of Constantinople.

List of known holders

Name Tenure Emperor(s) Notes Refs
John Doukas 1092 – unknown Alexios I Komnenos Brother-in-law of Alexios I, previously governor of Dyrrhachium [1]
Landulf 1099–1105 Alexios I Komnenos Admiral of Western origin [17][18]
Isaac Kontostephanos 1105–1108 Alexios I Komnenos Dismissed for his incompetence in the wars against Bohemond [17][19]
Marianos Maurokatakalon 1108 – unknown Alexios I Komnenos Successor of Isaac Konstostephanos [17][20]
Eumathios Philokales after 1112 – after 1118 Alexios I Komnenos previously judicial official in Greece and long-time governor of Cyprus [21][22]
Constantine Opos Unknown Alexios I Komnenos Distinguished general in the campaigns against the Turks [23]
Leo Nikerites Unknown Alexios I Komnenos Eunuch, previously governor in Bulgaria and the Peloponnese [23]
Nikephoros Vatatzes Unknown Alexios I Komnenos (?) Known only through a seal, possibly dating to the reign of Alexios I [23]
Stephen Kontostephanos ca. 1145 (?) – 1149 Manuel I Komnenos Brother-in-law of Manuel I, was killed in office in 1149 [24]
Alexios Komnenos ca. 1155 – after 1161 Manuel I Komnenos Son of Anna Komnene and Nikephoros Bryennios the Younger [23]
Andronikos Kontostephanos after 1161 – 1182 Manuel I Komnenos Manuel's nephew, he was the emperor's most trusted and distinguished general. Blinded by Andronikos I Komnenos in 1182 [25]
John Komnenos Unknown Manuel I Komnenos First cousin of Manuel I, son of the sebastokrator Andronikos Komnenos. He fell at Myriokephalon in 1176 [24]
Constantine Angelos Unknown Isaac II Angelos Afterwards governor of Philippopolis, he led an unsuccessful usurpation attempt [26]
Michael Stryphnos ca. 1195 – after 1201/1202 Alexios III Angelos A favourite of Alexios III. He reportedly sold off the fleet's equipment to enrich himself [27]
Theodotos Phokas ca. 1210 Theodore I Laskaris Uncle of Theodore I, emperor of Nicaea, known only from a monastic property deed dating to between 1206 and 1212 [28]
Michael Palaiologos 1258 John IV Laskaris The future Michael VIII, he assumed the office after the murder of George Mouzalon, when he was named regent for the young John IV. He was soon after raised to despotes and eventually to emperor. [28]
Michael Laskaris 1259 – ca. 1272 Michael VIII Palaiologos Brother of Theodore I, due to his advanced age he never held actual command of the fleet. He held the office until his death [29]
Alexios Doukas Philanthropenos ca. 1272 – ca. 1275 Michael VIII Palaiologos Previously protostrator and de facto commander of the fleet since ca. 1263. Held the office of megas doux until his death [30]
Licario ca. 1275 – unknown Michael VIII Palaiologos Italian renegade who entered Byzantine service, he conquered Negroponte and many of the Aegean islands [31]
John de lo Cavo after 1278 Michael VIII Palaiologos Genoese privateer who entered Byzantine service, lord of Anafi and Rhodes. [32][33]
Roger de Flor 1303–1304 Andronikos II Palaiologos Leader of the mercenary Catalan Company. He resigned his post in late 1304 favour of his lieutenant, Berenguer de Entença, and was murdered a few months later [31]
Berenguer de Entença 1304–1305 Andronikos II Palaiologos Roger de Flor's lieutenant and successor as leader of the mercenary Catalan Company. He resigned his office after disagreeing with the emperor [34][35]
Fernand Ximenes de Arenos 1307/1308 – unknown Andronikos II Palaiologos One of the leaders of the Catalan Company, he was named megas doux defected to the Byzantines [36][37]
Syrgiannes Palaiologos 1321–1322 Andronikos II Palaiologos One of the main partisans of the young Andronikos III Palaiologos in the Byzantine civil war of 1321–1328, he defected to the aged Andronikos II, who rewarded him with the office of megas doux. After plotting against him as well, he was imprisoned. [36][38][39]
Isaac Asanes unknown – 1341 Andronikos III Palaiologos Replaced in office by Alexios Apokaukos [36]
Alexios Apokaukos 1341–1345 Andronikos III Palaiologos
John V Palaiologos
A former partisan and protégé of John Kantakouzenos, Apokaukos was instrumental in the outbreak of the Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347, and until his murder in 1345 led the anti-Kantakouzenist regency for John V [36][40]
Asomatianos Tzamplakon ca. 1348 John VI Kantakouzenos Head of the fleet during the Byzantine–Genoese War of 1348–1349. He died some time before 1356 [36][41]
[Paul?] Mamonas early 15th century Manuel II Palaiologos The Mamonas family were hereditary rulers of Monemvasia [42]
Manuel unknown – 1410 Manuel II Palaiologos Mentioned only in an anonymous chronicle as dying of an epidemic in 1410 [42]
Paraspondelos ca. 1437 John VIII Palaiologos Known only as the father-in-law of Demetrios Palaiologos [42]
Loukas Notaras after 1441 – 1453 John VIII Palaiologos
Constantine XI Palaiologos
Notaras served both John VIII and Constantine XI as chief minister, and was executed by the Ottomans after the Fall of Constantinople [42]

Cultural references

In the famous 1490 Valencian epic romance Tirant lo Blanc, the valiant knight Tirant the White from Brittany travels to Constantinople and becomes a Byzantine megadux. This story has no basis in actual history, though it may reflect the above-mentioned cases of the office being conferred upon foreigners.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Kazhdan (1991), p. 1330
  2. Polemis (1968), p. 67
  3. Skoulatos (1980), p. 147
  4. Skoulatos (1980), pp. 61, 181
  5. Polemis (1968), pp. 66–69
  6. Skoulatos (1980), pp. 145–149
  7. Angold (1997), p. 150
  8. Angold (1997), p. 151
  9. Magdalino (2002), p. 234
  10. Bartusis (1997), p. 274
  11. Van Tricht (2011), pp. 112, 130, 144
  12. Bartusis (1997), p. 381
  13. Bartusis (1997), p. 60
  14. Verpeaux (1966), pp. 153–154
  15. Verpeaux (1966), p. 167
  16. Verpeaux (1966), p. 167
  17. 1 2 3 Guilland (1967), p. 543
  18. Skoulatos (1980), pp. 169–171
  19. Skoulatos (1980), pp. 130–132
  20. Skoulatos (1980), pp. 186–187
  21. Guilland (1967), pp. 543–544
  22. Skoulatos (1980), pp. 79–82
  23. 1 2 3 4 Guilland (1967), p. 544
  24. 1 2 Guilland (1967), p. 545
  25. Guilland (1967), pp. 545–546
  26. Guilland (1967), p. 546
  27. Guilland (1967), pp. 546–547
  28. 1 2 Guilland (1967), p. 547
  29. Guilland (1967), p. 548
  30. Guilland (1967), pp. 548–549
  31. 1 2 Guilland (1967), p. 549
  32. Geanakoplos (1959), p. 211
  33. Nicol (1992), p. 202
  34. Guilland (1967), pp. 549–550
  35. Nicol (1993), p. 131
  36. 1 2 3 4 5 Guilland (1967), p. 550
  37. Nicol (1993), pp. 133–134
  38. Kazhdan (1991), p. 1997
  39. Nicol (1993), pp. 157–158
  40. Nicol (1993), pp. 187–201
  41. Nicol (1993), p. 223
  42. 1 2 3 4 Guilland (1967), p. 551


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